Mattie pushed her newly-dyed purple hair out of her face. Her green eyes filled with tears. She had fun during earlier road trips with her friends Sunny and Jade, but now that her first semester of college was almost over and her heart was broken, Mattie felt like she couldn’t enjoy anything anymore.
“Are you dwelling again, Matilda?” Jade asked, pushing her short black hair behind her ears. “Don’t make me come back there and beat your ass. You know I’ll do it.”
“A little,” Mattie said. “It was the song I guess.”
“Don’t just sit back there and cry, Mattie,” Jade said. “Bitch about it to us. Or scream, whatever works.”
“That’s what we’re here for,” Sunny said, looking at Mattie in her car’s rearview mirror.
“I told you I wouldn’t be any fun on this road trip,” Mattie said. “You should have left me at the dorm.”
“You had to come to keep me and Sunny from killing each other,” Jade said.
“Yeah,” Sunny said. She pulled out her ponytail holder, shook out her long blond hair, and threw the holder at Jade. “Hey, that’s not funny!”
Jade and Sunny playfully argued while Mattie stared out the back window. The sky was purple under the haze and clouds.
“I can’t even see any stars,” Mattie whispered to herself. She knew her friends were worried about her. That’s why they wouldn’t leave her alone. Actually, Mattie felt lonelier surrounded by people than she did when she was alone.
“My parents would kill me if they knew what we were doing tonight,” Sunny said. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere and no one knows we’re gone. Did that sign just say ‘Blue Ball’? What kind of name is that for a town?”
“I know exactly where we are,” Jade said. “I have the map right here and I know we’re still in Arkansas.”
“Until we hit the sign that says ‘Welcome to Oklahoma.’” Sunny said.
“As long as we have plenty of licorice, we’ll be fine,” Jade said.
“Didn’t you lose it when you had the window down?” Sunny asked.
“Nope,” Jade said as she loudly crinkled a plastic bag. “I still have another bag.”
Sunny sang loudly with the song on the radio while Jade studied the map with a flashlight. Mattie stared out the window again. They had been on the road since sunset and the air outside was getting colder each minute. Soon there were no more houses in sight, just thick trees and barbed wire fences. Mattie really wanted to be somewhere else, but it was their monthly ritual to drive around unknown areas to find the perfect road sign to steal. Mattie wasn’t sure whether sign stealing was considered a misdemeanor or a felony, but either way, she figured they should be careful and not get caught.
“This is like where my ex-fiancé lives,” Sunny said. “Way out in the woods.”
“Don’t you miss him?” Mattie asked.
“He was a real asshole to her toward the end,” Jade said. “Sunny can do better. This world is lacking decent people. You’re lucky, Mattie, you can write people to be as perfect as you want.”
“That’s not true, though,” Mattie said. “I used to love writing, but now I hate it. But I feel like it’s like a disease I have that I can’t cure. I write what I want to say, but no one seems to care or listen anymore.”
“Just because one guy doesn’t see your worth doesn’t mean you’re worthless,” Sunny said. “At least that’s what my mom said when my ex dumped me.”
“You’re going to be a famous writer someday, Mattie, and lots of people will care what you have to say,” Jade said. “You can write about me since I am god-like and when the press interviews you, you can tell them ‘I remember purple skies, and purple hair and late night road trips with Sunny and Jade.’ Just don’t tell them about the signs, or that mailbox Sunny ran over last month. The Feds might get pissy. Everything will get better, or worse, but either way something will happen.”
“You’re depressing me even more,” Mattie said. “Life kind of sucks for me right now.”
“Life sucks for everyone right now,” Jade said. “Except for Sunny. She got dumped three months ago and still lives in a world with pink fuzzy bunnies running around all over the place. I shot all those little bastards a long time ago. There’s no hope for me in love and I don’t want it, but I know both of you will live your stupid fairy tales.”
“I hope you’re right,” Mattie said.
“Don’t question Jade’s authority,” Sunny said, using her most serious tone. “She’s always right.”
“Yeah, I’m always right. You don’t need him, Mattie. You’ll find someone else or at least find someone else to have fun with in the meantime.”
“I feel so much better now,” Mattie said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Sunny pulled her car over and stopped it just at the base of a sign that read “Mount George.” Jade grabbed the screwdrivers and pliers from the toolbox at her feet. Mattie kept watch while her friends climbed on the hood of the car to reach the sign.
“Why this sign?” Mattie asked. “Does it have anything to do with Professor Lee?”
Writing Professor George Lee was young and extremely hot. And he knew it. But Mattie never got the impression that he’d be inappropriate with his female students, the male students—maybe.
“Damn straight,” Jade said.
“No. I don’t think he is,” Mattie said, laughing for the first time in weeks. “I think you should leave him alone.”
“Minor inconvenience,” Jade said. “I’d still mount him anytime, anywhere.”
Jade had already slept her way through the two smallest frat houses and had her sights set on the larger ones for the upcoming semester. She always said she preferred to use them and leave them rather than having any feelings involved. Sunny and Mattie thought feelings should always be involved but tried not to judge Jade. There was something about Jade that drew her friends to her. Jade acted like she was taking care of her friends, when in fact, they thought they needed to take care of her.
“Mattie’s right, you should give up on that. I don’t think he’s one-night-stand material,” Sunny said as she struggled with the last bolt on the sign. She finally got it loose and the sign dropped onto the hood of her car, taking a chip out of the paint. “Son of a bitch! My dad’s going to kill me. Do you think he’ll believe a rock hit it on the interstate?”
Jade collected the sign and quickly got back into the car. Mattie and Sunny followed her.
“I still can’t believe finals are next week,” Sunny said as she drove them home. “It seems like we just started.”
“I just keep thinking I might lose my scholarship,” Mattie said.
“You won’t,” Jade and Sunny told her.
“I hope not,” Mattie said. “I really don’t want to have to live with my parents anymore. Their house has this life-sucking quality to it now. I feel like I should still be a little girl when I’m in my old room. Mom still treats me like I am. She doesn’t trust me.”
Sunny agreed with Mattie and they were quiet the rest of the drive back. Sunny left Jade and Mattie at their dorm and drove to her own. Later, Jade and Mattie went on one of their late night wandering sessions on campus, which looked like walks to other people. Jade grabbed her blue plastic cup that looked like a wine glass on the way out.
“This is all I need,” Jade said as they walked. “My cup, my little Russian friend, and someone to listen to me babble.”
“I swear you’re the only person I know who mixes vodka with hot chocolate,” Mattie said.
“You want some?” Jade asked, shoving her cup under Mattie’s nose.
“I get a buzz from cough syrup.”
“Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have any,” Jade said, looking down at her cup. “I made it pretty strong tonight. You’re down enough as it is.”
Mattie heard music blaring from a nearby dorm. “I’m glad they’re having fun,” she said.
“We should join them,” Jade said. “I’m sure one of those guys would be willing to distract you for a few minutes.”
“Have you met me?”
“Never mind. Let’s wander somewhere else.”
They reached a bench in a secluded area of campus under a huge oak tree.
Mattie sat down and pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. “Is there any way we can fast forward time for a while?” she asked.
“Don’t think so. I’d have found it by now.”
“I just keep thinking this ‘life’ I have now is more of a test than anything. Like, if I can survive being this unhappy now, then later on when I’m happy I’ll appreciate it.”
“So in order to appreciate happiness, you have to know unhappiness first?” Jade asked as she sat down on the bench with Mattie.
Mattie nodded and leaned against the tree.
“Sounds like a whole lot of bullshit to me,” Jade said.
“Maybe. I feel like little Charlie Brown in the Christmas special. I am supposed to be happy with Christmas coming and our first semester of college ending, but I’m not. And I don’t even have a great dog like Snoopy.”
“I guess that makes me Linus.”
“Nope. Lucy. Sunny can be Linus. She’s so optimistic it makes me sick sometimes. If anyone’s going to be okay, she will.”
“Do you listen to yourself speak?” Jade asked as she plopped down on the ground and looked up at the sky. “You’re starting to sound like me.”
“Maybe,” Mattie said. “Did you notice the sunset tonight? It was beautiful and purple with red etching along the clouds like the sun was angry at them. I never seem to have my camera when I need it. It would have made a great painting.”
“It wouldn’t have been the same,” Jade said. She began imitating Lucy’s voice. “So tell me, Matilda, are you really all that unhappy?”
“He took it from me,” Mattie said. “I gave it to him. I know we weren’t together all that long, but I loved…I love him. Everything else would be so much easier to deal with if I were happy again. I can work harder to pay for college if I lose my scholarship, I can replace my car if it dies, and I can make it so that I will never have to live with my mother again, but even with all those things, I can’t seem to get happy again without him. It’s so stupid.”
“Just remember the purple skies,” Jade said. “You’ll be okay.”
“Purple skies,” Mattie said. “Sounds like a good title for a poem.”
“One you should write.”
“I don’t even want to do that anymore,” Mattie said. “I haven’t written anything new in over a month and I don’t want to draw or paint either. I’m just going through the motions pumping out crap for class.”
“So save it for when you do want to write. And remember everything I say so you can make me famous someday.”
Mattie smiled. “I think you can do that on your own,” she said.
“I’d rather just live in the dark…just me and my cup—which is empty. Damn it,” Jade said. “Now stop dwelling, you’re starting to depress me. Hell, I don’t even remember my first time or the dude’s name. You can’t put all your worth into what some guy did to you. Go find someone else.”
“You get mean when you have your cup,” Mattie said. “And keep it together, the campus police are driving by.” She waved at the officers in the patrol car.
“I’m always mean,” Jade said. “And he didn’t deserve you. He’s an ass.”
“I feel like there’s no one else out there for me, no one I’ll feel a connection with. But I still do all kinds of stupid stuff, like wish on stars or on the clock when all the numbers are the same for someone to love me someday, even if it’s not him.”
“It’s not stupid for you,” Jade said. “You’re the sentimental sappy type. Even when you’re depressed you still see shiny things and hope just like Sunny. Didn’t you do all that crap before you met him?”
Mattie smiled. “I guess so,” she said. “I’m sorry. You must be getting sick of listening to me too.”
“There’s no reason to beat yourself up anymore. You shouldn’t apologize for wanting to love somebody or have them love you back. It’s your thing. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in love. So it’s not all fairy tales?”
“For your case, I’ll make an exception,” Jade said. Her voice was more relaxed from the buzz she had going. “You’re stronger than you think. Enough for me to have faith in you, and we both know that I have no faith in most of the human race.”
“Then why do you have faith in me?”
“Because you seem to know what you’re talking about,” Jade said. “Most people just open their mouths and see what comes out, but you’re different. You put thought into what you say. You’ve got a brain underneath all that purple hair.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that some of my old sappy, sentimental personality was rubbing off on you.”
“Perish the thought,” Jade said. “I’m a lost cause. If anyone’s going to be alone forever, it’ll be me, not you.”
They watched the clouds move slowly across the sky, revealing the stars.
“Maybe I should make a wish for both of us,” Mattie said.
“What would you wish for me?” Jade asked as they watched a shooting star.
Brandi Easterling Collins discovered her passion for writing while still in junior high. She developed her own writing style and pursued a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from Arkansas Tech University. She is a published short-story author and blogger. Her debut novel was twenty years in the making. She lives in Dardanelle, Arkansas with her husband and two children.
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